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Rachel E. Winston Joins LLILAS Benson as Black Diaspora Archivist

Rachel E. Winston has joined the staff of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections as Black Diaspora Archivist. The position is brand new, and one of few of its kind in the world. As part of her position, Winston will lead efforts, working with faculty and other library professionals, to establish the Black Diaspora archive, to be housed at the Benson Latin American Collection.

A self-described museum and archives enthusiast, Winston lauds UT’s commitment to bringing to light little-known stories through the new archive: “The creation of the position by UT speaks volumes,” she says, stressing the importance of the university’s commitment of resources to ensure that the narratives of Black lives are preserved.

“The Black Diaspora Archive is a vitally important initiative, which affirms our commitment to Black history, and to the communities across the Americas who make that history,” says Charles R. Hale, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. “The time is right for LLILAS Benson to embrace this project; the interest and commitments of campus partners are strong; and Rachel Winston’s vision, training, and enthusiasm generate great confidence that the outcome will meet our highest aspirations.”

Winston earned her MSIS with a portfolio in museum studies from UT Austin, where her graduate studies focused largely on archives and cultural records. Prior to that, she earned her BA in anthropology with a minor in French from Davidson College, and is also a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs. Prior to joining the Benson, Rachel worked in UT Black Studies as Art Registrar and Archivist, and at St. Louis Soldiers Memorial and Military Museum. She is an American Library Association Spectrum Scholar and a Society of American Archivists Harold T. Pinkett Award winner.

Winston describes the early phase of her new job as developing a “big picture”—“looking at the state of archives about the Black experience, with an initial focus on the Americas and Caribbean, to assess what gaps are present and what kinds of collections could help to fill the voids.”

Her first project has already begun. She will process the Gordon papers, a large set of materials given to the university by Dr. Edmund W. Gordon and Dr. Susan Gordon. Dr. Edmund Gordon is the John M. Musser professor emeritus of psychology at Yale University. Dr. Susan G. Gordon is a pediatrician and an active champion of racial equality and education. In addition to their papers, the Gordons have also made a gift to the university of artwork by Charles White that will be housed and displayed on campus. Their gift has been honored through the naming of the Gordon-White Building, home to the departments of African and African Diaspora Studies and Mexican American and Latina/o Studies.

Asked about the significance of the Gordon papers, Winston responds: “Black intellectuals are underrepresented in archives. This project says that we value the contributions of Black intellectuals, professionals, and artists, and that we will promote their use. I can’t think of a better fit for our first Black diaspora collection.”